There’s far more to Santa Cruz, California than wide beaches and longboard surfing. It’s also home to a boutique microphone manufacturer with a growing reputation.
Text: Calum Orr
To say that I really like the Josephson e22S would have to be the biggest understatement I’ve made in AT thus far. I’m not usually one for gushing about a product in the pages of this magazine but simply put, this microphone is phenomenal – I think I’m in love! Can I say that about a mic? [Your call – Ed.] A pair of these microphones have graced my mic cabinet for the past couple of months now and I have to say they’re pure gold.
Josephson Microphones – which is a small manufacturing company based in Santa Cruz, California – in conjunction with engineering guru, Steve Albini, have delivered one of the most honest-sounding mics on the planet. The e22S offers up a sonic balance and solidity like no other mic in its league. The design concept apparently began when Steve Albini decided he needed a sturdy, small condenser mic for recording drums that was robust, low profile (so it could be squeezed in anywhere on a drumkit, without getting in the way of drum sticks and rocking cymbals), great sounding and capable of handling high SPLs. After several months of debate and testing with Dave Josephson, Steve had his mic. That was way back in 1994… but it wasn’t until 2003 that Josephson released the mic under the ‘e22S’ name. Since then the mic has quietly built up a solid reputation – one that seems to me to be entirely justified. I’ve used the mic in a wide variety of situations over the last two months, conducting countless ‘listening tests’ along the way and they’ve not failed me once.
Anyway, to the specs: The e22S is a side-address cardioid condenser microphone that has great rejection characteristics and smooth off-axis response. The headstock of the e22S is principally the same as an old bottle mic design, where the capsule effectively ‘floats’ above the microphone body. The advantage of this approach is that the capsule is free of the undermining resonances that often plague small condenser housings – this contributes to the mic’s rock-solid and uncoloured tone. The microphone’s body is derived from the Josephson C609 while the KA22S capsule is specific to the e22S. The housing is made from machined brass and the capsule’s diaphragm is polyester with pure evaporated gold metallisation. The electrics are, in David Josephson’s own words: “As simple as can be built,” and consist of a proprietary Class A, discrete FET, cascade design on the front-end of the circuit. Signal is fed through film capacitors to an output transformer designed by none other than Per Lundahl at Lundahl transformers in Sweden. For those of you who may not know, Lundahl have been designing and manufacturing transformers for the audio Industry since the ’60s and are in no small part responsible for the killer sound of many Calrec and Focusrite consoles (among others). In audio circles Lundahl is held in a similar regard to Jensen, i.e., they are one of the best, and I’d estimate that these transformers contribute significantly to the e22S’s sturdy and honest sound. The transformers themselves have an amorphous glass-nickel alloy core and pure copper wire for ‘minimum colouration’. No DC/DC converters or other switching power supply topologies are used and therefore the e22S requires full 48V phantom power to operate.
The stated frequency response of the mic is 20-20,000Hz (nothing new there, of course). The frequency response graph supplied on the mic’s fact sheet shows a gentle roll off from around 100Hz and a gradual 2.5dB hump that start at 5.5kHz, peaks at around 10kHz and ends at around 17kHz. Maximum SPL is a healthy 144dB whilst the equivalent noise level is a whisper-quiet 15dB SPL (A-weighted).
The sound of the Josephson e22S is hard to describe. I keep coming back to phrases like ‘sturdy’ and ‘honest’ not the most thrilling adjectives – unless, like me, you want to get an un-hyped representation of the great sound you’ve tuned in on your toms or the real grunt of your electric guitar amp. To further my somewhat hyped (sorry, I can’t help it) explanation of how good these mics are, I would have to say that they have, hands down, become my favourite acoustic guitar mic when it comes to small diaphragm condensers. I have used Neumann KM84s, AKG 451s, Octava 012s and a whole raft of other less obvious options, and without any hesitation, I can unequivocally say the e22S beats the lot of them quite convincingly. The representation of instruments is so good that you rarely need to EQ the sound ‘to tape’ or even at the mix stage. Having said that, I found that the e22S responded very well to EQ when the need arose.
To really put the e22S pair through its paces I decided to take them out on a few live mixing jobs. In this setting I used them on toms, guitar amps, double bass, acoustic guitars and bongos, and without fail, they sounded great.
So I guess you can surmise that using the pair of e22S mics was a somewhat religious experience for me. During my time with them I had many great comments from clients, from ‘I’ve never heard my guitars sound so good’ to; ‘my toms are exactly how I hear them when I’m at the kit’. It’s comments like these that make me look forward to trying them on almost every conceivable source, both acoustic and amp’d.